Navy to UpGrad – From Cupboard Files to the Google Drive!

I joined the Indian Navy in 1997. After 19 years of service, I was set to retire shortly. Post-retirement, I wanted to do something that I would genuinely love. At the time, I’d read a lot of newspaper reports about data analysis and in this way, slowly, my interest in the field of analytics began to build.

My learning path was filled with a lot of stumbling blocks. The prerequisites needed for learning analytics seemed very high. A lot of websites mentioned that a person should know linear algebra, calculus, statistics, coding skills, data structures and what not to learn about the field of data science. I didn’t possess a single prerequisite. I had studied calculus and statistics a couple of decades earlier, and I had no experience in coding. That’s when I began my search for online data analytics programs; what better way to learn than to start from scratch. I also wanted the course to be entirely online; as due to my work restrictions, I would be unable to be physically present on a campus all the time and needed the flexibility to learn. At the time, I used to live in Ernakulam, Kerala.

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However, I couldn’t find a single online program from where I could learn data science. There were a few programs in metropolitan cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai, but they were not wholly online either and required frequent travel. I couldn’t find a single online program that was suitable for me.

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Many months passed by without any resolution. Then one day, I was going through Quora, trying to figure out how I could learn data science. That was when I came across a program called Post Graduate Diploma in Data Analysis from UpGrad (Currently, it is known as ‘Post Graduate Diploma in Data Science’). It was entirely online, but it cost a whopping two lakh rupees. I was hooked, but the cost of the program was exorbitant.

I spoke to my family, friends, and colleagues about my desire to learn analytics. In the past, I had enrolled in a few programs but didn’t complete them.  My parents were very skeptical about whether I’d finish this course. I spoke to my friends about it. They told me that it is a challenging field to get into and that my age was a hindrance when it came to learning a new subject. I was not convinced by their arguments, but I started to doubt myself. Many questions kept troubling me. If I get admitted, will I be able to complete the course? In the past, I had dropped off quite a few programs midway; and this thought kept troubling me throughout. I kept telling myself that I need to push harder. My spouse had complete faith in me and agreed to pawn her jewellery; so that I’d be able to take a gold loan. I was admitted into the program the moment the loan got sanctioned.

Every day, I used to block some time — early in the morning and evening — exclusively for learning. I would complete all the course modules before the deadline. As I didn’t have programming experience, I knew that it would take me more time to complete the assignments and case studies, as compared to the other students. So I used to start my assignments and case studies very early. I spent double or sometimes triple the time that was recommended for completing the assignments. Even after spending so much time, I used to finish all my assignments before my peers began theirs. Completing the course content very early helped me to assist my peers through the discussion forum.

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As I had joined the Indian Navy in my childhood, I missed college dearly. I craved for education and a college environment. This course fulfilled my cravings for school and friends. I learned a lot from this class and made friends. I always liked deadlines. I feel deadlines are like goal posts for a football match. The football match will not be exciting without a goal post. In the same way, a course would not be enjoyable without harsh deadlines. If the class did not have any time limit, then it would lead to procrastination and postponement. Once I joined an online course, and till date, it is incomplete because of the simple reason that it has no deadlines.

Soon after completing this course I retired from the Indian Navy and joined UpGrad. I feel very lucky to join this company. Almost every person from the content team is from IIT or some other prestigious institute of the country. The person who sits beside me studied at a prestigious university in the USA. I am delighted and proud that I can join this elite group without any formal education – contrary to what people still believe about online education – this online course was a door-opener for me employment-wise in more ways than one! I am full of gratitude because I got accepted with open arms.

The two worlds which I inherited were utterly different. There is no resemblance whatsoever. In the Indian Navy, how you’re turned out, and rules to live by, take precedence. In the Navy, there’s a strict hierarchy in place. We were instructed to follow the divisional system strictly. At UpGrad, the company supports an open work culture and flexible timings. Here, no one cares if you shaved in the morning or not. In my earlier job, communication happened via signals, letters, and faxes. In my new job, communication occurs via email and slack.

In the first week itself, I felt that I need to learn how to organise my Inbox. In my earlier job, essential documents got into different files and locked away in cupboards. Here everything ends up on a Google Sheet. I nearly went unconscious at the number of google sheets maintained here. One day I got tired of looking at those google sheets and hid some to avoid the distraction. A small panic generated among some of my peers that their sheets got deleted. Volumes can be filled with these things, so let me leave this here and come back to the main point of the story.

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I joined the Data Analysis content team at UpGrad. I am managing students grades and the discussion forum. As I got a chance to see the questions asked by cohorts from four different batches, I now know how a teaching assistant feels. Answering and verifying problems have been never easy. At times I end up rewatching a video, downloading a dataset, firing up my R console or Tableau software, doing some manipulations before I can answer. It sometimes happens that answering a question will consume a couple of hours. Sometimes I get to see some silly problems, but it never depresses me. And this is because even I have passed through that phase. I remember asking on the discussion forum “What is a dataframe?” To some of my own TA’s, this would have sounded very silly.

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In my student phase, I never took feedback seriously. Now from where I stand, I see how vital feedback is. It helps in improving content which ultimately helps the students. Once, I was going through the ratings given by students for the grading done. Only two students gave their rating. If more students give their objective feedback wouldn’t it improve the grading done? Will it not improve the feedback received by the students?

After I joined the content team, I could fully realise the efforts that go into creating high-quality content. Researching the topic, writing the script, shooting videos, deciding upon the dataset for the assignment, framing the problem statement, testing the dataset, coming up with the ideal solution, designing the graded questions, answering in the discussion forum and the list goes on. I am thrilled to join this team and apply myself to create some of the greatest learning experiences.

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